China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue may be discontinued

The 8th round of China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue will be held this year and it might be the last one of its type, considering Barack Obama’s presidency coming to an end next year.
Both countries also might not make any concrete progress in some focal issues, such as the North Korean nuclear issue, South China Sea dispute and Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), which defy a solution in a short time.
Obama has paid more attention to the relationship with China than his predecessors, and he is also one of the US presidents to show more goodwill toward China.
In the first year of his presidency, Obama visited China. He also pushed ahead for the combination of the two separate strategic and economic dialogues into the current one in 2009.
During George W Bush’s presidency, China and the US conducted the China-US strategic dialogue and a separate China-US economic dialogue. The first was at vice foreign minister level, and the second at the ministerial level.
The combination of the two former dialogues into the current “Strategic and Economic” dialogue was not just in form - the two countries talked about more issues on the new platform that involved a lot of departments in both countries.
Except for the new platform, they also set up the China-US High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE).
The two countries had a benign interaction at that time. The US sent goodwill gestures to China, and China offered Obama with good political response, such as signing of the US-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change.
But their interaction started to take twists and turns in recent two years.
One reason is that rapid economic development has allowed China to challenge the US’ dominant position in the world, and the other reason is that China takes a tough stance on some issues that the US government doesn’t agree.
The biggest flashpoint is the South China Sea. The US government thinks it has the dominant position in this region, and prioritizes its hegemony over international laws. But now China is challenging that hegemony.
In fact, the pivotal parts of other issues are also linked to this issue.
When China and the US both seek rapid development, there would be only one leader in the globe. Therefore, the US would contain China in some areas, such as the exchange rate, environmental pollution, market economy status and the subsidies to state-owned enterprises.
The US and China would both compete and cooperate with each other in such a context. The bilateral cooperation might benefit both, but each has a different result.
Changes in their power will cause a shift in their influence on regional and global issues.
Since China started its reform and opening-up, its gap with the US is narrowing, which has caused the US to feel that it could not keep its dominant position in the Asia-Pacific region.
Considering the competition and cooperation in the bilateral relationship, the US does not really want to reach any reciprocal agreement in the BIT negotiations, and it also does not want China to make gains from the agreement.
The US could fulfill its trade interests through other alternative ways, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
China has currently misjudged Obama, and turned a friend into an opponent. Considering Obama’s presidency will end soon, the Chinese government is reluctant to achieve any progress in the BIT negotiations to offer Obama political gains.
The BIT negotiations may lead to some agreements when the new US president takes office.
Other unsolved issues - the South China Sea dispute and the North Korean nuclear issue, will continue to linger.
Generally, every new US president adopts some new policies and makes some breakthroughs in the international arena, but such breakthroughs may wither away after he steps down.
So, on a pessimistic note, the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the Nuclear Security Summit pushed forward by Obama, possibly, might no longer exist next year.
Obama does not lack political legacy, and he might not aim to reach any agreements on these issues during the remaining period of his office.
Shen Dingli is a professor of international relations at Fudan University, Shanghai.  He is the Associate Dean of Fudan University's Institute of International Studies, and Director of Center for American Studies.

(Opinions expressed in the article don't represent those of the

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